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Shows about food are among the most popular on television. We love to watch people cook, eat, have disasters, and travel. But why? For a medium that plays so heavily on taste and smell, what is so appealing about watching and listening to food? Br. Tito and I discuss this very question on this week’s Everyday Liminality.

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One of the most common things I hear from non-Christians is that “Jesus never claimed to be God.” While people like Peter and Paul professed his divinity and later councils defined what that meant, Jesus never speaks of himself as God. Taken with the fact that Jesus always defers to the Father, and, at times, even admonishes the disciples for giving him too much credit, it’s easy to see why some would question his identity.

That is, if all they ever knew of the Bible were a few random passages that supported their opinion.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus does claim to be God and does expect worship all throughout the Gospels. He may not say those words explicitly, but when you know where to look and if you do a little digging, there is more than enough evidence to show that he knew himself to be God.

The following is my homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Last weekend I was at the wedding of one of my college friends, and I heard this bit of advice quite a bit. In the toasts, the speeches by parents and friends, people who had been married many years, they all said the same thing: don’t sweat the small stuff. Besides being a bit a of a cliche, I think it can be great advice. Don’t go crazy over things that don’t matter—okay, so he forgot to make the bed—sure, she left a mess in the bathroom with ten thousand types of makeup everywhere. Oh well. Is it really worth fighting over? Probably not. Focus on what matters, and let the little things slide.

At the same time, I think there is something a bit misleading about this advice, something that can actually hurt more than it helps. In saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” there is an implication that small things don’t matter, that if it’s small, you can do anything you want. As long as you love your spouse, are always faithful, help in taking care of the kids, show humility and listen well—big things—then nothing else matters: never make the bed, leave messes everywhere, forget to put things on the list, whatever. They’re just small things, right? No sweat.

My guess is that our relationships would really suffer if that’s the way we treated them. 

Small things do matter. Maybe not as much as the big things—forgetting to take out the trash is nowhere close to cheating on your spouse—but they do matter. If you were to forget to take out the trash every week, you forget to make the bed every other day, you act just a little rude, a little distant, a little passive aggressive on a regular basis… these things add up over time, and actually, I think they point to the fact that there are actually some problems on a much deeper level.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis reminds us that everything we do is connected: “We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.’ We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality.” We have only one heart. 

When I hear our Gospel today, this is what comes to mind. Jesus says, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” You are but one person, you have but one heart, and so if you are considerate and attentive in small matters, I imagine that you will be considerate and attentive in great ones as well. But if you are lazy or forgetful when it comes to small things, if you are selfish or even hurtful, it is only a matter of time before that same heart causes you to act the same way in big things. Put another way, what Jesus is getting at, quite simply, is integrity, being the same person when things don’t matter, when no one is watching, as we are when things really matter, when everyone is watching. Anyone can put on an act for an audience; anyone can show up to the big game when everyone is watching. And we might be able to fool people who only see us in those situations that we are loving, humble, caring, and live by the values of the Kingdom. But we are the same person in rehearsal, the same person at practice, the same person in the small details of preparation. We have only one heart… and Jesus knows our hearts.

I think it’s easy, sometimes, to justify our bad habits by diminishing them. “Yeah, I do that thing, and I know it’s bad, but c’mon! It’s not that bad, and it’s only one thing. Look at all of the great things I do. That one thing isn’t that bad!” We can look to our first reading and hear how the business leaders were abusing the the poor, selling them into slavery, hating God’s feasts because it meant they couldn’t do harm, and think, “My thing is nothing like that. It’s just a small sin. I’m good. I don’t need to change.” This is rather unwise. 

The great contemplative Thomas Merton once had an analogy that I find very poignant. He once wrote that being killed by a single enemy and being killed by an entire army leaves you just as dead. What difference does it make how many people kill you if you’re dead regardless?It takes but one mortal sin, one act of hatred, of pride, of deceit, of some deadly habit to keep us from living in Christ for all eternity. It doesn’t matter if we are a “good person,” if we have hundreds of virtues—it takes but one deadly sin to keep us from God’s grace. Why? Because that deadly sin affects everything we do; that deadly sin is done by the same heart that does everything else.

Now am I saying that we need to be perfect to a disciple of Christ, that we have to be completely without even the smallest sin to live in eternity with him? No, of course not! I’m honestly not sure if it is possible to go a day without some sort of venial sin let alone our whole lives. There are some small things that we work to prevent, but sometimes fall, and so we come to the Eucharist, this sacrament of mercy, and we are forgiven. In that sense, the popular wisdom of weddings is true: don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t let the unattainable goal of being perfect derail us and let us fall into scrupulosity, worried that every single impure thought, uncharitable word, or minor act of selfishness is going to keep us from heaven. Come to the eucharist, be forgiven, let those things go, and strive to do better.

No, in offering the Thomas Merton’s image of being killed, in bringing up Pope Francis’ words about having only one heart, my goal is not to have all you beginning to worry that every little thing you do could prevent you from heaven. No. My goal is to remind you, maybe even awaken you, to the fact that sometimes the small stuff is big stuff. Sometimes we overlook what is actually killing us, ignore things that are real problems in our lives, deceive ourselves into thinking that we can do lots of good things to make up for the bad things we do. That’s not the way God works; that’s not the way we work! True conversion to Jesus Christ means giving up our entire selves, our whole heart: who we are at our best but also who we are at our worst. They are the same person, because we have but one heart.

It may not be the most conventional marriage advice, but I say, “do sweat the small stuff.” This is our salvation. This is the heart that we’re giving over to Jesus. If it’s true that “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones,” it seems to be in our best interest to be trustworthy in small matters too, to be trustworthy in everything. 

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It’s not news to anyone that the Catholic Church has been the butt of a few jokes in popular society. If all you ever knew of the Church was from popular movies and television shows, your opinion of the Church would not be favorable: we’re up to no good but mostly irrelevant to society.

Naturally, this is a problem. This week on Everyday Liminality, Br. Tito and I discuss how the Church has been portrayed of late, where we might see some bright spots, and what we hope to change about this.

The following is my homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

I lived in a fraternity once in which things would mysteriously go missing or show up in strange places. The guardian of the house would routinely make announcements at dinner, “Has anyone seen the stapler? It’s not in the mail room.” Or “Why is the paper cutter in the kitchen? Who was using it and what were you doing?” Without exception, no matter what it was, the response was always the same: silence. No one ever seemed to know where things were, who had used them, why they were broken. It was like the objects in our house were like Toy Story characters who came alive when we weren’t looking and hid themselves in strange places.

This, of course is not the case—things do not get up and get lost on their own—people lose them. They forget about them, get distracted, maybe even treat them with negligence.

It may sound like an extremely obvious point to make—you’re sitting here wondering, “Did Fr. Casey just find out that Toy Story isn’t real?”—but I think remembering this fundamentally shapes the way we interpret our Gospel today. So often, when we hear the parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son, we place ourselves in the position of the thing that is lost. We read them as Jesus telling us that even though we are lost, God will continue to search for us, continue to seek us out. The story is about how we need to return to God with a contrite heart and he will take us back.

And that’s true, for sure. But I’m not sure that that is the really what Jesus is trying to teach here. Because, remember, objects don’t lose themselves. The coin did not jump out of the woman’s bag and run away; no, the woman had to have misplaced it, dropped it somewhere. The sheep probably walked away, but are you really going to blame one of the world’s dumbest animals for getting itself lost? Of course not. The sheep is lost because the shepherd lost track of it, because he didn’t do his job and let it go astray. Even with the lost son: science tells us that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re 25; I know I’m in the presence of the cream of the crop, students who never did anything foolish in high school, or yesterday… but the fact of the matter is that the part of the brain that makes decisions is really impulsive when we’re young. We all have free will, sure, but the story of the lost son could be as much about a father giving a teenager his inheritance and letting him run off to a foreign country.

In all three stories, the active character—the one responsible for the situation—is not the one who is lost, but the one who lost. These stories are not about comforting those who are lost, convincing them to repent and return to God; they’re about demanding that we take responsibility for those we have lost. The coin did not have a change of heart. It didn’t decide, “Oh, I’ve been bad, I should go back.” No, the woman tore her house apart to find it. She changed her life so that she could get it back. The sheep did not all of the sudden think, “I’ve been foolish. Why did I walk away from the pack?” No, the shepherd left the 99, he took a huge risk of losing more, he went out of his way to retrieve it. But the son, you say? He sinned horribly and repented before returning. Yes, but it wouldn’t have mattered to the father. Even before the son could say a word, the father ran to him and hugged him. When he apologizes, the father never even acknowledges it. What matters is not the son’s contrition, but the joy that the father has to have him back. “Who cares why you’re here, I’m just so happy to have you back.”

These parables are not about the lost, but about those who have lost. These parables are not about our relationship before God in our sin, how we go astray, but about how we, as Christians and ministers, are to respond to those whom we have lost, those on the peripheries, those who are not always welcomed.

I’m talking about our friends and family who have left the Church because we failed to evangelize and catechize. Those people who say “I used to be Catholic,” who come to mass on Christmas and Easter, who feel no connection, no welcome, no fulfillment.

I’m talking about those who have been abused by the Church, who trusted us only to find that trust exploited, who have gone through life burdened with pain and suffering at our hands.

I’m talking about our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who feel that they have no place in the Church because so many Catholics have told them that they have no place, who routinely are told that they are not real Christians, that God hates them, that there is something disordered about them.

I’m talking about those those in prisons and in gangs, those who live in destitution and poverty, who know nothing but suffering in their lives, who find themselves cut off from the human family and do not know the love of God.

These are the lost coins, the lost sheep, the lost sons of our world, not us. Our exhortation today is that we must be like our heavenly father who rejoices when one of these are found. That our relationships must not be based on merit—what someone can offer us, what others have earned—but rather on mercy: like the father to the son, “who cares why you’re here! I’m just so happy that you’re here!”

But even more than that, Jesus does not want us to simply wait for them to return, to “hope” that they magically find their way back, as if the coin will just appear on its own. No, what he is telling us today is that if we want to share in the Father’s joy, we must actively go after those who are lost. If we really love our brothers and sisters, if we really care about the state of their souls, the state of their lives, we must be willing to do all that we can to go after them, even if that means being inconvenienced, dropping everything and tearing the house apart. We must be willing to take a risk, to leave what’s comfortable, in order to go after that one sheep. We must be willing to accept that we might be the reason that they left in the first place, that there is something wrong with our home, something we failed to do, and have the humility to change ourselves in order to welcome them back.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: we love with humility, not because of who they are, but because of who we are. It is not about deserving to be in this place. None of us deserve to be here! The problem of the Pharisees, and why these parables were directed to them specifically, is because they could not accept the wideness of God’s mercy. They could not imagine a God who loves sinners, who welcomes outcasts, who goes out of his way and risks his own life for people who do deplorable things. But that is what our God did. He died not just for the good, but for all. He welcomes not just the repentant, but all. He loves us, all of us, so much, that he’s just happy that we’re here.

If we want to be his disciples, we must go and do likewise. No one is outside of God’s love, and so no one should be outside of our care. Go to the lost and forgotten, go to the hurt and abused, go to those tax collectors and prostitutes of our world, and make it your life’s work to welcome them with love.